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John Reitman

By John Reitman

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Warner remembered for supporting industry, colleagues

 

Dennis WarnerFor many folks in the turf business it comes as second nature to give back to their profession. And then there was Dennis Warner.
 
During his career as a superintendent, including the past 35 years at Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati, Warner's management style showed employees how much he cared about them, and they returned the favor. When the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation or regional GCSA chapters needed a speaker, he was always willing to accommodate them.
 
And when area superintendents were between jobs, Warner would hire them on his crew to keep some money coming in the door until they found another job. 
 
"He was a giver," said John Fanning, a former superintendent who turned to a career in sales. 
 
"We used to make fun of him for that. Over the years, he probably put four or five superintendents, maybe more, on his payroll until they found something. Of course, that didn't hurt the depth of his crew, either."
 
Warner died Jan. 20, while visiting family in California. He had suffered a heart attack while on the trip, according to the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation. He was 66.
 
While some will miss Warner's management and leadership philosophy, Barry Strittholt will miss his fishing buddy.
 
A former superintendent who found a home on the Kenwood staff for the past three years, Strittholt fished with Warner each Monday on the club's lake. It wasn't uncommon for them to pull out slab crappie and largemouth bass in the 3- to 5-pound range.
 
"It was a competition to see who could land more and bigger fish," Strittholt said. "He fished with live bait, and I was the angler using artificial bait. He always tried to out-do everyone," Strittholt said. 
 
Competition among peers was always important to Warner. When he was superintendent at Portage Country Club in Akron, Ohio, he left for Kenwood because it received more play, Fanning said. Kenwood is one of the industry's true 36-hole properties from the classic era. Opened in 1930, it has layouts designed concurrently by Donald Ross and William Diddel. 
 
"He always told me how beautiful it was at Portage and how much he loved it there," Fanning said. "But he also said it wasn't busy enough there. Members there didn't play enough for him."
 
A graduate of Ohio State, Warner was a devout OSU fan and was especially proud of his affiliation with the school's turfgrass program. In 1986, he won the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation Professional Excellence Award, which is given annually to those who promote the turfgrass industry through fellowship, inventive ingenuity, involvement and dedication.
 
Fanning and his wife, Debbie, have been friends with Warner and his family for more than four decades. Their families vacationed together for years, so Fanning is as familiar with Warner as just about anyone. And as a former sales rep for such companies as The Andersons, Fanning has seen his share of golf course maintenance crews in action. He said he hasn't seen any crew as capable and polished as those who've worked for Warner.
 
"I saw a lot of crews in my time," Fanning said. "At any time, he might have 50 people on the ground at Kenwood. His crews among the best."
 
Survivors include wife Alberta; daughter Meredith (Matthew) Slater; son Gregory (Alicia) Warner; daughter Rachel (Jacob) Lawrence; grandchildren Jackson and Jillian Warner, and Audrey Slater; loving nieces and great-nephews. Visitation is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 26 at Mihovk-Rosenacker Funeral Home, 10211 Plainfield Road, Cincinnati. Services are scheduled for noon-1 p.m. Monday at St. Paul Community United Methodist Church, 8221 Miami Road, Cincinnati.

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